[Editor's Note: Image(s) in this slideshow are (c) 2016 Darron Birgenheler, used under Creative Commons 2.0 BY-SA License.]

The 2016 Presidential election should be a wake-up call

It probably suffocated you to the state of insanity. You couldn’t thumb through social media, read the newspaper, watch your routine television shows, or even carry on a conversation without it coming up.

Surely, you’re fed up with this year’s presidential election. I don’t blame you if so, but stick with me. 

Any election cycle our country goes through creates stress and tension in our everyday lives. But this year’s presidential election was on an unprecedented level of chaos.

Both candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, were and still are majorly flawed in their individual ways. Trump’s chauvinism and Clinton’s corruption pushed an already dysfunctional country past its boiling point and into a raucous nightmare.

For the past year, the media shoved the presumption of President Clinton down our throats to the point where we teased the idea of President Trump. That there’s no way this T.V. star with brash social media posts who looks more like an Oompa-Loompa than Commander-in-Chief could have a shot against a candidate who has 40-plus years of political experience. 

And never mind about how The New-York Times and many other nationally renowned media outlets gave Clinton roughly an 80 percent chance to prevail as the President-elect.

When it came down to the real thing on Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, Trump grabbed an early lead in the Electoral College, conquered Florida, Pennsylvania and the Carolinas and put the improbable upset on ice. And that was that. Trump, who had less than a 20 percent chance, was the President-elect.

So, what actually happened? Did Trump win fair-and-square? Was it what CNN called as a “whitelash” against an evolving America? Who is to blame?

Well, you can’t point in one direction. There are a few factors, though, that should serve as a wake-up call to America. 

To be frank, the media didn’t awaken from their fantasized dream. They completely ignored what America was trying to tell them. Instead, the media locked themselves inside a bubble lined with ignorance.

“The media blew it by not understanding the electorate as well as they should have,” said Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan, who spoke at the Newseum on Saturday afternoon. “I think it was a lack of deep reporting and true understanding of how a lot of the country was feeling so angry and disenfranchised.”

Along with the media, we, the American people, were gullible enough to believe anything that came across our phone screens. 

We were either too lazy to fact-check a source or the so-called news that resonated with us is what we were desperately searching for all long, and simply out of insecurity, we failed to do the research. 

After all, people don’t want the news. They want their news.

The moment people find what they’re looking for, there’s no going back. Whether if it’s biased national media outlets or a bogus blog post lurking around Facebook, as soon as your opinion gets affirmation, we automatically think our way of thinking is superior to everyone else’s logic.

“I do think that these fake news sites and the hoaxes, which were perpetuated and passed around on Facebook, did have an effect [on the presidential election],” Sullivan said. “How well informed are we? Not very well. And it’s getting worse.”

“We’re in a different era now. … I think that Facebook role in this and they need to get serious about figuring out how to tell people what’s true and not true and not just simply perpetuate all this complete nonsense … they’re being disseminated as if it were The Columbus Dispatch. It is really terrible. I think that that’s a real issue. I think as legitimate, responsible news organizations struggle, and there’s more and more of this fake stuff, I think that’s a big problem. And I’d like to see Facebook face up to the fact that they’re not just tech company as they insist, or a platform do communicating and passing around baby pictures, but actually a place that has become the leading distributor of news and a huge, huge factor in the way our society functions. They give lip service to that, but they just don’t want to see themselves as a media company, but they are. And I think they could use some editors.”

Sullivan makes a good point. Facebook wants to act as an online community, when in reality, it’s sucked the life out of print media and now serves as the world’s leading news provider. And even better, or worse depending on how you look at it, it’s all in the palm of your hand.

Yeah, that garbage blog post that may or may not have altered your presidential election vote? It’s just one click away. Scary and highly disturbing if you ask me.

Like I’ve said in previous columns, I’m an objective sports reporter whose forte is far from politics. The only reason why I’m writing this is because I’ve read, and read and read, while doing a wee-bit of reporting, striving to be properly educated.

And though I’m only 20 years old, and with a lot left to learn, I feel confident in my judgement of recognizing a credentialed source. Others, on the other hand, not so much. And I see this every day on Facebook and Twitter.

Constant misportrayal of ignorant, phony memes, ridiculing a person or opinion. The reposting of makeshift blogs geared by imposters with headlines that are so deceptive, you’re a sucker for whatever it says. Even if the URL ends with “.wordpress.com” or “.weebly.com.”

And you know what’s just as bad as memes? Photos with altered captions to paint a falsified image in your head. 

For example, I was thumbing through Facebook the other day, and I stumbled across an image with about a half-dozen White House staffers with stern looks and crossed arms. They didn’t look happy, at all. The caption was along the lines of what the staffers looked like when they first greeted Trump.

That photo, with that caption, appeared all over my timeline for a few days. Then, Time.com provided what was actually going in the picture. Turns out, the staffers were looking on at Obama giving a speech on Nov. 9, and Trump was nowhere around.

Again, please, if you don’t have the facts – and facts are polar opposites than assumptions – then don’t say a peep.

This obviously isn’t going away anytime, and we need a solution relatively fast. So, like a mandatory health class in all levels of schooling, where students learn the importance of diet and nutrition, and the effects of alcohol, drugs and smoking, why doesn’t America offer a news literacy class?

“I feel so strongly we need to teach this in schools,” Sullivan said. “We need to teach kids how to consume news, and it’s called news literacy. There are people and news organizations working on it. We just had a huge wake-up call to how important it is.”

I’m not blaming the entire, or even majority, of the 2016 presidential election based off our poor ability to judge a news source. But frankly, our lack of knowledge and disturbing foolishness played a large hand in the election results.

Though a slew of bashful posts about Trump went around, this whole phase of phony media may have helped him. While American citizens had to fight through the weeds of confusion, fringe-voters may have fallen into the lap of Trump, who used catchy and simplistic slogans like “Make America Great Again,” “build that wall,” “lock her [Hillary Clinton] up,” and “we will defeat ISIS.” Clinton, meanwhile, confused most fringe-voters with a lack of clear identity.

As for us, journalists, we need to do a better job of remaining objective. Relationships in this industry are everything. Without a relationship, there is no credibility, which throws everything I previously said out the window. And if there’s no credibility, how can a reader be sure to trust that source over and over again?

It all starts by remaining objective. We also have to dig deeper instead of settling for just good enough. That’s lousy journalism, which will, again, result in losing credibility.

“It is up to the best news organizations to do their jobs really well,” Sullivan said. “And it’s not about ridiculing a candidate and it’s not about being stuck in our bubbles. It’s about understanding the elector.”

“It’s about doing deep digging, real stories. And a lot of that was done. … All of the good journalism that was done didn’t seem to resonate nearly as much as some of the things that came up on these fake websites or the chanting of ‘lock her up’ that happened at rallies. I’m a true believer. I think journalism is really important. I continue to think that. It’s a little discouraging to be in this place right now. Especially since Trump has fanned these playing’s that say ‘those people are against you.’ I don’t think that most reporters or editors around the country, serious good ones, I don’t think they are against Trump. Far from it. I think they do have their hearts in the right place.”

And that’s right. In order for us move forward, we must have our hearts in the right place. Instead of being so self-infatuated, we need to take a step back and realize, our country needs healing.

Who knows if Trump is going to “Make America Great Again,” but I do know one thing – this is our wake-up call to dismantle America’s corruption.

“I think it’s important to look at the reality of it,” Sullivan said. “He is going to be the president. He is going to be the president for four years. There’s not going to be the Hail Mary, or the impeachment, or the electors. … We have to deal with the fact that it’s President Trump.”

Kyle McFadden is the editor-in-chief of The Commuter and has his own weekly column called K-Fadd’s Cauldron. He also co-owns, manages and reports for Maryland Sports Access, where he covers many beats, including Maryland high school sports, college basketball and college football. He’s also a freelance sports journalist for The Baltimore Sun and The Frederick News-Post, covering colleges and high schools.

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